China’s crackdown on Muslims in the country’s western Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region is finally attracting mainstream attention. On Monday, a U.N. commission lent credibility to multiple reports claiming as many as 3 million Uighurs (a Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim ethnic minority), as well as some ethnic Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities, have been forced into “re-education camps” in Xinjiang. The region has been home to a low-boil insurgency and occasional ethnic rioting for decades. On Tuesday, the Daily Beast reported that China’s surveillance of Uighurs is extended even into the U.S., with Chinese state security allegedly compiling a global database of Uighurs and stepping up monitoring of their activities abroad. Maintaining tight control over peripheral buffer regions like Xinjiang is a geopolitical imperative for China. But Beijing is evidently starting to feel the heat, with Chinese state media publishing a series of defensive reports claiming, among other things, that the measures have prevented Xinjiang from becoming “China’s Syria.” For the most part, foreign governments over the past years have been conspicuously quiet about the Uighur issue – including leaders in majority Muslim countries who have sought to pressure, say, Myanmar over its alleged ethnic cleansing of its Muslim Rohingya minority. China’s tight media controls and ability to lock out foreigners from the area certainly gives it greater ability to contain the story. But with international unease growing about Chinese assertiveness on multiple fronts – and with several governments grasping for leverage against Beijing – it’s doubtful that China can keep its crackdown in Xinjiang confined to the shadows as much as it’d like.
Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria may be settling on a common enemy in Idlib. On Tuesday, following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov hinted at an agreement to cooperate against Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an al-Qaida-linked group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. With the Islamic State largely defeated in Syria, Lavrov said, HTS is now the main target. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu reiterated that jihadist rebels and more moderate opposition groups in Idlib need to be separated, and that province-wide bombing by Syrian forces would lead to catastrophe. Turkey’s support against any effort to isolate HTS would be key, given that HTS has served as something of a Turkish proxy in Syria in the past (though its ties with Ankara have always been strained) and that Russia is seeking to head off a confrontation with Turkey as Syrian President Bashar Assad prepares an offensive to retake Idlib province, the only remaining rebel-held province in Syria. Lavrov also said the U.S. is standing in the way of further progress against the group. Meanwhile, activists say airstrikes and shelling of targets in Idlib by Assad’s forces has reached its most intense level since Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to set up a de-escalation zone in the province last year. And Turkish media reported that the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, is now keen to work with Assad in Idlib, with thousands of fighters moving to Aleppo in recent weeks to take part in the impending offensive.
The Argentine government’s latest attempts to head off recession are putting it in conflict with farmers. Most of the media attention has focused on the fall of the Argentine peso, which has now stabilized, and few noticed the government’s decision to suspend for six months a planned decrease on export taxes on grains. A reduction of this tax was a pillar of President Mauricio Macri’s campaign. And in an effort to avoid a surge in exports before the start of the suspension, the government suspended grain exports for two days. Farmers are a formidable bloc in Argentina, and they have successfully pressured past governments to make major policy changes. The farmers have opposed the government’s cooperation with the International Monetary Fund, and the government’s latest decision will stoke further discontent.
- Turkey and Iraq agreed to cooperate fully against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party militant group, as well as to push forward with a new border crossing and the reopening of Turkish consulates in Basra and Mosul.
- Israel allowed food and commercial goods back into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in a sign of easing tension.
- Turkey doubled tariffs on some U.S. imports, including alcohol, cars and tobacco, while a Turkish court rejected an appeal by the American pastor at the center of U.S.-Turkish tensions to lift his house arrest and travel ban.
- South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo reported that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is heading to Pyongyang later this month. North Korean state media says a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may be forthcoming.
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte issued a rare rebuke of China’s activities in the South China Sea, saying warnings issued by Chinese warships and aircraft to their Philippine counterparts violate the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and urging Beijing to temper its behavior.
- China’s State Council is mulling a plan to provide subsidies to one-child households in underpopulated parts of the country, the latest in a series of steps Beijing has taken to address its looming demographic crisis.
- The EU has given Poland one month to comply with its recommended legal reforms. Otherwise, the European Commission may take Poland to the European Court of Justice.